Fifteen years ago our phone rang, our friend Amanda told us to turn on the TV. The buildings where I worked exactly two years prior were engulfed in flame and smoke.
I tried in vain to call my former coworkers. I learned the next day that they had an early conference call that AM that they all chose to take from home. I didn’t lose any friends that day, but I knew many who were deeply affected, a friend just a few blocks away who witnessed people jumping to escape the flames and a harrowing tale of escape from a friend who worked across the street. We were set to travel to my brother-in-law’s wedding in Battery Park that weekend, their event venue was converted to a makeshift morgue.
It was all surreal to me, a feeling of non-reality, until a few months later when I visited NYC and many posters of missing people “have you seen ____, 79th floor, south tower”. That was my floor. There were lots of people who didn’t make it, the second plane hit squarely on the 78th floor. It all hit me hard.
For many months I combed through at pictures of the wreckage, maps of the destruction, seeing shadows of places I had walked by every day, where I got my bagel, my favorite lunch spots, which ATM I used, all barely recognizable. I’m lucky, no friends lost, I wouldn’t have been there that early even if I had worked there, but yet it haunted me for years.
I still can’t bring myself to go to the site. In 2004, I had a press interview with the Wall Street Journal (a big deal) at the Millenium Hotel. The reporter had her back to the window, I had a view of the pit, I had such a difficult time focusing, I finally had to apologize to the reporter and explain why I was struggling. That was the closest I’ve been and haven’t been back.
I’m thankful I wasn’t in NY that day, that year. Not because I would have been at the WTC, but because of the pain that everyone in NY felt for days and months. The smell of the fire for months, the mourning of lost people everywhere. It was difficult enough from afar, I feel for all of you that lived it up close.
Maybe now that it’s been 15 years, I’ll make it to the site. I hope it can help me move on. There’s a new tower, and a memorial, but in that space, I will always imagine the tower where I worked, the lobby I walked through, where I caught the subway, grabbed lunch and walked to go to the gym. #NeverForget